Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Humanity // Wineskins


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/26/2014

video available at
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New Humanity whiteboard recap…

image18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

This maybe sounds strange at first – there’s not an actual wedding going on, is there? Is Jesus getting married? – so we’ll talk about it more later. To help us stay with the flow of the conversation though, it helps to know that wedding feasts were seven days long, and fasting or any other act of mourning wasn’t permitted for you if you were a guest or participant in the wedding feast. Jesus, in other words, is claiming that he and his disciples aren’t fasting because there is a hidden wedding feast in progress.


21“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

On the surface this is pretty self-explanatory – we understand how fabrics can shrink with time and water and heat. And although it’s not something we are intimately familiar with today, we can imagine how wineskins (which were made from a goat’s hide) would stretch by the fermenting process of wine kept in them, making them unable to withstand the fermentation of new wine put in them after they’d already been stretched; they would only burst, ruining the container and the contents. As to why Jesus is saying this, we’ll talk more about it later. For the moment, perhaps it might help to just consider that Jesus is saying something brand new is happening through him, and we’ve got to let go of the old and embrace the new to understand and benefit from it.


23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

The Sabbath was an important day in Israel; observing it is one of the ten commandments, in fact. It happened every week, from sunset on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday. On the Sabbath, everyone in Israel was legally obligated to rest from work, and by the time of Jesus, there were very detailed stipulations about what kinds of activities were allowed and what were not. Picking grain was not allowed.


25He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

This story Jesus references about David is an important one, and we’ll explain it and talk about it more a little later. But basically Jesus is saying that there is precedence for his actions in something that happened in the life of one of Israel’s most beloved heroes, David.

27Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

This last verse is incredibly profound; we’ll probably save it for next week, when some more drama involving the Sabbath happens at the beginning of Mark chapter 3.


Let’s talk about fasting, since that’s what sets this section in motion.

Fasting in Israel happened on feast days remembering the past; in particular, remembering times of tragedy or disaster. There were fast days, for example, connected to the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. They were used to reflect, to mourn, to repent, to petition God to forgive sins and restore relationship with Israel. John the Baptist and the Pharisees and their disciples all were observing these fasts, but Jesus’ disciples were not. They were going about their normal lives.


Jesus’ response about the bridegroom gives us the key to understand why Jesus and his disciples aren’t fasting. In Israel, not only were weddings a big deal – 7 days of feasting – they were the basis for one of the primary metaphors about God rescuing Israel. Israel saw herself as a wayward or unfaithful bride that one day God was going to forgive and win back to himself, and that he would come and marry her, and there would be a feast for the ages in celebration.

When Jesus responds to the question about fasting, he references himself as the bridegroom and his disciples as the guests at the party. In other words, Jesus is saying that he himself represents YHWH and his disciples represent Israel and the party has gotten started. Right now, through me, Jesus is saying, God is doing the thing everyone has been fasting and praying for. The disciples are so caught up in the good new thing that is happening that they are simply unable to fast. This is a time for looking forward, not backward. Fasting doesn’t make any sense right now.

(There is that note about the bridegroom being taken away, which seems to be the first reference to Jesus being crucified; that isn’t going to be like a wedding feast; fasting will be appropriate then. It will be too dark to look forward. All the disciples will be looking backwards, filled with sober reflection, petitioning God to do something, to show them where they went wrong.)

Ok. So what does this have to do with New Humanity?

Thanks for asking. That’s a really great question.

But it’s not time to answer it yet, not until we’ve talked about the next thing Jesus says.


21“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”


Now we are getting somewhere. What God is doing in and through Jesus, the way in which he is rescuing Israel by sending Jesus with forgiveness and healing for sinners, inviting them to follow him into child-like faith in the kingdom of God, is profoundly new.

Something so new that trying to stitch it together with the old will only make the old less useful, tearing its holes even more wide open. Something so new that to try to hold it with the containers of what came before will cause those containers to burst, making a mess.

What’s happing in and through Jesus, what Jesus is teaching his disciples and inviting them into, is so new that it’s painful and overwhelming for the old humanity. It’s so new that the only way to receive it, to enter into it, to enjoy it is by throwing off your old clothes and ditching your old wine supply, receiving new clothes and wine bottles Jesus has to give you.

Sounds great…

but what in the world are we actually talking about?

Well, what do clothes do for us? They keep us warm and dry, and they keep people from seeing us naked. In other words, they protect us in our weakness and cover the source of our shame. They protect us from our vulnerability.

And what do wineskins do for us? They keep our wine from going bad too quickly, and from evaporating. In this case, in the ancient world, wine was a symbol for life-giving nourishment. And for the Israelites, wine (along with grain and oil) had become a technical term for the covenant blessings promised by God to Israel.


Just for fun:

13“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord…

New wine will drip from the mountains

and flow from all the hills

14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.

They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them;

They will plant vineyards and drink their wine,

Amos 9

So in other words, wineskins hold the source of the life that we are constantly longing and thirsty for. They protect us from neediness.


In the old humanity, what are our clothes and wineskins? What protects us from the pain, discomfort, and shame of our vulnerability? What makes us feel secure in light of our never-ending needs?


Everything has to do with strength. Physical strength. Intelligence. Knowledge. Political power. Personal reputation. Physical Beauty. Wealth. Talents and skills. Relationship networks. Family, tribal, and national loyalties. Stuff. Actual clothes. Houses. Cars. Weapons. And on and on.

In the new humanity, what are our clothes and wineskins?


Child-like Faith that the God who loves us will address our needs. Which actually requires us to face and embrace the pain, discomfort, and shame of our vulnerability and the depth of our neediness as we discover with Jesus that none of those things have any power to keep us from resurrection life.

This doesn’t mix with the old humanity’s perspective, does it? It will just tear it open more if we try. Burst it. And try we do, all the time, don’t we? We try to depend on God to give us physical strength. Wealth. Power. A good reputation. A nice car. And on and on. And when it doesn’t give us the life we’re really longing for, or when God doesn’t give us what we’re asking for, we have a crisis of faith.

After which we might say forget it! – which is deeply painful and in the end non-productive.

Or we press into following Jesus in true child-like faith, which for Jesus, means coming to the end of his strength, being condemned as a traitor, executed with criminals, betrayed by his best friends, penniless, powerless, naked. But so full of real, true life all along the way, and resurrection life in the end.

Take fasting, for example.

The old humanity fasts because we are desperate for a way out of our need and vulnerability, as a way of demonstrating to God that we are truly sorry, that we are earnest in our good intentions now, trying to prove to him that it’s worth his time to give us another a chance, that we have learned our lesson and now are worth a shot.

The new humanity fasts as a way of reminding ourselves that our current condition of feeling full from food only masks the reality that we are in fact desperately needy and that that need is a blessing to move us towards God, our only true hope in our need. And to remind us that the fullness we enjoy when we are not fasting is a gift of grace, a sign of God’s love for us as his children, not a sign of his approval of our strength or earnestness.

The old humanity prays to impress others with our holiness, or to coerce God into doing what we desire.

Not the new humanity. The new humanity prays because he’s our only hope, knowing that we may feel extra vulnerable as we wait for God to address our needs, knowing that he may ask us to move or act in ways that require courageous vulnerability or make us look like fools.

New wine for new wineskins. The only way to have it is to abandon our old wineskins, with the old wine still in them. We can’t eat from both the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.


Which brings us to the Sabbath section. We’re just going to touch on it, and then close with practical suggestions, saving most of it for next Sunday.


When Jesus’ disciples are found to be in violation of the Sabbath rules, and Jesus is questioned about it, he doesn’t deny what they are doing or say that it’s not a violation. Instead, he talks about David doing something similar centuries earlier. David was traveling with his men, who were hungry, and the only food available was bread consecrated for the Lord, normally available only to priests. He asked Abiathar, the high priest at the time, for the bread and gave it to his men to eat.

David is likely a somewhat familiar Biblical character to you, even if you haven’t read the Bible. No doubt you’ve probably heard the story of David and Goliath. David was also an accomplished songwriter who wrote many of the Psalms, and eventually David became a powerful King in Israel. But this story Jesus references happened before David had taken the throne. That’s significant.

David had been chosen by God and anointed the King of Israel by the prophet Samuel, but Saul, the current King, a king demanded by the people in their fear, selected because of his strength and good looks, hadn’t given up his power. David was going through the countryside, avoiding Saul’s forces, gathering support, waiting for his time. He and his disciples were hungry, needy, vulnerable. And the only thing available to them was God’s provision.

Sound familiar? Jesus has been anointed King at his baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. But the prince of this world, the accuser, Satan, the one we put on the throne in our fear, is still on the throne, and trying to destroy his rivals. Jesus is going through the countryside, gathering support, waiting for his time. Jesus and his disciples are hungry, needy, vulnerable. And the only thing available to them is God’s provision.

His disciples eating this grain, in other words, is no accident. It’s a sign. A sign that the true King of the world is on the move, and the illegitimate king will be dethroned.

To whom do you desire to give your allegiance? The one who calls you to strength and condemns you for your flaws? Or the one who calls you to faith, and loves you in your weakness?


Practical Suggestions:

1. Slip Into Something Less Comfortable. Take off your strength suit and put on a humility jacket. Some conflict with a spouse, or relative or friend. Some situation at work. Maybe in anger you’re accusing, or standing secure in your rightness, or being defensive to protect your reputation. Instead, in vulnerability reveal the hurt you’re experiencing, or fear, or own the part you play in the current difficulty. It may not successfully move things forward the way you desire. But it may open the door to God’s life for you.

2. No More Sorrow, No More Shame. Or, Stop Saying I’m Sorry and Toss Your Shame in the Trash. Perhaps there is something you beat yourself up about, especially in relationship to God. Something you feel sorrow and shame about. Something that seems to get between you and God. He’s not looking for more “I’m sorrys” from you; he’s not worried you’ll hurt him if he embraces you – there’s no need to prove yourself to him. Your sorrow is for you, to move you in a new direction, but once it’s served its purpose, it goes rotten. And the shame you feel is disconnected from the reality of God’s love for you. Yes, you may be deeply flawed. But that doesn’t affect your belonging. You belong because you are God’s child, and he loves you. So try imagining yourself naked before God, not wearing sorrow or shame, but just you as you are, and ask him to show you what his response to you is.

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